China on Tuesday voiced its "sincere" intention to continue constructive dialogue with the Holy See and push for the improvement of bilateral relations, after Pope Francis renewed his wish to visit China at the end of his trip to the U.S.
"China is sincere about improving relations with the Vatican and has made consistent efforts," Hong Lei, spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
The response came after Pope Francis, who ended his six-day visit to the U.S., told reporters that he would love to go to China, reported the Italian news agency ANSA.
"I love the Chinese people," the pontiff said on a flight back to Rome on Monday.
"I hope there is a possibility to have good relations with China," he said. "We have contacts. We talk. It's necessary to keep going."
The pontiff expressed his wish for a visit to China in August 2014 when he returned from a visit to South Korea. He also sent telegrams to Chinese President Xi Jinping as his plane entered Chinese airspace in a rare fly-by permission granted by China.
Diplomatic ties between China and the Vatican were severed in the 1950s as the Vatican does not recognize the bishops it appoints. The Vatican also continues to diplomatically recognize Taiwan, which remains another obstacle to improved relations.
A possible détente with China could be expected if negotiations could be carried out, according to analysts, amid concerns over an impasse over bishop appointment. Both China and the Vatican have changed greatly over the years, in spite of the conflicts, Yang Fenggang, a religious studies professor at Purdue University in Indiana, previously told the Global Times.
"Coming from a developing country, Pope Francis is also known for promoting reform and anti-corruption inside the church," Yang said, referring to the similarities shared by the two leaders.
"Improving relations would also benefit both sides. Underground churches and the lack of authority of some bishops have become a problem which can impact the stability of Chinese society. We cannot solve those problems without the Vatican's involvement," Wang Meixiu, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, previously told the Global Times.